Routines: Get Shipshape in Five Weeks

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Bodywork, April 1997

Routines: Get Shipshape in Five Weeks
By Lolly Merrell

"Most paddlers concentrate on building up their big arm muscles over the winter," says two-time World Cup champion kayaker Scott Shipley. "Trouble is, they don't realize that the neck, shoulders, and hamstrings are crucial to developing good kayak posture and handling skills." Shipley spends some 340 days a year working in the foam, yet it took a painfully kinked neck two years ago for him to realize that he also needed a well-balanced pre-season training plan. The good news is that his resulting routine of stretching, weight training, and strengthening exercises will tack neatly--and briefly--onto your existing workout. Plan on beginning the routine five weeks before your spring launch. Then do the regimen twice in the first week and three times per week thereafter.

Start with your shoulders, since they bear the brunt of paddling stress. You'll want to warm up for five minutes first. Then stand an arm's length away from a wall, extend your right arm, and brace it against the wall. Pivot your torso to the right, as if you're trying to touch your left shoulder against your braced right arm. Shipley recommends holding the stretch for 40 seconds. Now repeat with your left arm. One stretch per side is sufficient.

Long days spent shoehorned into a kayak cockpit, with your legs locked in one torturous position, can make the muscles in the backs of your legs painfully sore--especially your hamstrings. To prep them for such discomforts, sit on the floor, back straight, feet together, and slowly slide both hands toward your toes. Stop when your hamstrings become taut, and hold the stretch for 40 seconds.

Aside from cranking out bench presses for their chests, kayakers need to mind those spindly, oft-abused tendons and muscles in the rotator cuff. Thus, the cable pull. Use just enough weight to allow you to complete ten repetitions before your muscles fail. Begin by sitting sideways on the cable-pull machine's bench, an arm's length from the cable handle, with your right side facing the weights. Now, with your back straight, grasp the cable handle in your right hand and pull the cable diagonally across your body toward your left knee--making sure to keep your arm straight. Switch sides and repeat. Alternate with a set of ten biceps curls, keeping your elbow pinned to your side, and repeat each set three times.

Paddling at Shipley's level requires more than simple power: It also demands fluidity, and one method of promoting this is with shoulder rolls. Stand with your back straight, arms hanging loosely, and a barbell in each hand. Now slowly roll your shoulders forward in smooth circles ten times, then backward ten times.

Each paddle stroke begins with your torso, so you'll also need strong abs and back muscles. And you know what that means: crunches. Lying on an incline bench with your arms crossed over your chest, do 25 reps. Alternate with back extensions: Lie face-down on a hyperextension table with your hips just below the edge, arms crossed in front, and slowly raise your torso to horizontal. Repeat 25 times. Do two sets apiece.

Finally, to exercise your neck, try lying on your right side with your head on the floor. Your right arm should be extended in front of you, and your left arm at your side. Toggle your head as if to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. Do ten reps, switch sides, and repeat.

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